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Daisuke Matsuzaka will make his return to the Major Leagues for the first time since June after a long stint in the minors ostensibly to re-condition himself. He returns to face one of the American League’s best offenses in the Angels and a team, despite playing out west, that the Red Sox know quite well. The Sox and Angels have been a postseason staple of late, meeting in each of the last two seasons as well as 2004 and even as far back as 1986, with the Red Sox taking all four series.
With the Angels and Yankees the probable 1-2 punch in the American League, the Red Sox are likely facing the Angels regardless of who has the better record provided the Red Sox can hold off the Rangers for the Wild Card. The lead is up to four games after consecutive sweeps of the Orioles and Rays this week. The Red Sox are only 2-4 against the Angels this season with all games on the road in April and May.
Dice-K (1-5, 8.23 ERA, 2.20 WHIP in 2009) opens up against John Lackey (10-7, 3.23, 1.21), who got a late start on the season due to injury, but who continues to be a rock for the Angels. Paul Byrd (1-1, 6.08, 1.88), who if the pattern holds up is due for a bad outing, draws Joe Saunders (13-7, 4.81, 1.44), who took the loss in his only start against the Red Sox this season. Josh Beckett (0-1, 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 8 H, 5 K, 2 BB vs LAA) lost to the Angels earlier this season and tangles with Ervin Santana (7-8, 5.52, 1.55), who took a no decision with a five-inning, three-run start in his season debut (also delayed due to injury). Brian Fuentes has taken over Francisco Rodriguez’ closing role and is 41/47 with 42 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. He has not allowed a run in two innings this season against the Red Sox and converted his only save chance.
The Angels have a potent offense that is second in the majors in runs and leads all teams with a .287 batting average. Manager Mike Scoscia could write out a lineup card with eight hitters above .290 and six of those above .300. They have some home run hitters, but primarily, the game plan is get on base, take the extra base, hit and run, steal, and sacrifice. The Angels are second in steals to the obscenely aggressive Rays and boast the most sacrifice flies in the AL and second most sacrifices overall in the AL.
Torii Hunter, who is familiar with Fenway’s Triangle after that awful collision (July 29, 2005 then with the Twins), is their leading hitter at .312, but also has 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 67 runs, and 16 steals. Kendry Morales is the leading home run hitter with 30 while hitting .306 with 98 driven in and 73 scores. Chone Figgins leads the team with 40 swipes to go with .300 average and 106 runs. Erick Aybar (.302, 53 RBI, 65 R, 13 SB), Macier Izturis (.297, 59 RBI, 67 R, 12 SB), and Bobby Abreu (.299, 13 HR, 94 RBI, 89 R, 28 SB) are the others who are above the .300 mark. Abreu, the offseason discounted free agent signee, is proving doubters wrong with a throwback season that used to have him near the top of fantasy draft boards. Vladimir Guerrero (.301, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 47 R) has missed about two months this season with various injuries which has seemed to sap his power (no home runs this month), but he is still the centerpiece of the lineup and still has yet to see a pitch worth watching.
The Red Sox have always fared well with the Angels in the postseason, despite regular season struggles (1-8 last season, for example). The Angels can hit, but their bullpen is weak, so the series could be an offensive one, especially given the Red Sox pitchers this series. Dice-K and Byrd tend to allow a lot of baserunners, while Beckett can be prone to gopher balls. The Red Sox likely drop this series 2-1, but will have a chance for revenge in October.
Writer’s Note: It’s still sad to come upon Nick Adenhart’s name when researching the Angels for this piece. Such a senseless tragedy…